You’ve finished that first draft. Now what? Whether you’re sending your file off to your editor at the publisher, or doing the whole book–soup-to-nuts–by your own hands, you still have to go back through your work, page by page, and ask yourself some hard and honest questions about what works and what doesn’t. Check out these resources to find out which ones you’ll need to keep within reach–whether it’s on your desk, on your e-reader, or open in another tab on your browser.
Why Should You Revise And/Or Edit Your Work?
Whether you’re publishing your first novel or fine-tuning your hundredth nonfiction manuscript, errors and inconsistencies will always distract from the quality of your content. Plot holes, grammar issues, and lack of flow are just a few of the mistakes that can slip through the cracks when you don’t revise. Even bestselling authors must take the time to step back, seek outside opinions, and approach their work from a fresh perspective. Follow their lead. Let these invaluable resources guide you toward cleaner, better writing that keeps every reader’s attention and does justice to your hard work.
- What does it mean to “edit”? (Spoiler: It’s more than catching spelling errors.)
- Edit Yourself: 12 Tips to Do it Better
- How to find, hire, and work with the right editor with editorial consultant Sarah Kolb-Williams
- Isn’t all English the same? with proofreader and editor Eve Merrier
15 Resources to Help You Revise and Edit Your Work
Merriam-Webster has always been the gold standard of spelling and pronunciation in American English. Unlike many online resources, you can depend on it for accurate spelling and definitions. If you think a physical dictionary is unnecessary or outdated, think again. This collegiate guide has always evolved alongside popular culture; the latest edition actually has 5,000 new words. As new technology re-shapes our collective lexicon and changes the way we communicate, your writing should reflect that. If your manuscript is nonfiction – or fiction that’s set in the present day – it’s especially important to make sure you’re using the correct, industry-accepted terminology.
Flipping through a physical dictionary can broaden your vocabulary and improve your spelling, but many writers depend on virtual versions instead. Typing a word into a text box is faster than looking it up alphabetically, but you won’t stumble across new words along the way. With Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, you can enjoy the best of both worlds. The “Word of the Day” might spark ideas for your next manuscript, while daily and weekly Top Ten lists show you which words have been looked up the most often. Bookmark this website instead of depending on your word processor’s spellcheck tool.
No matter how creative you are, well-polished writing is the only surefire way to impress publishers, agents, readers, and reviewers. There are two style manuals that are accepted in the publishing industry: Chicago and AP. Avoid confusion and inconsistencies by sticking to just one of them. AP formatting rules mostly apply to journalism and technical writing, so Chicago is the best choice for the fiction and creative nonfiction writer. It’s much more comprehensive, offering a detailed study of very specific grammar and style rule. To improve your manuscript, use this book to research the intricacies of the English language.
The online version of the Chicago style manual is a more streamlined, convenient way to verify your own stylistic choices. You can exchange comments and share new discoveries with other writers in its online forums, bookmark the Quick Guide for fast reference during the editing process, and even subscribe to My Manual for additional customization and personalization. If you can’t decide on your punctuation, word choice, or formatting, just enter your query into the searchable Q&A to get an immediate, accurate answer.
05. AP Stylebook (for journalism)
The Associated Press has enforced its own precise style rules in the journalism industry since 1953. Modern journalists and nonfiction writers still depend on the press organization’s Stylebook for important structural guidelines, seeking everything from punctuation and dialect choices to the approved layout and format of their work. This journalism Stylebook is updated every year, so it will ensure that your nonfiction work is professional and consistent with other journalists. It will also eliminate the possibility of creative differences between yourself and your editors.
06. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
Three decades after the first edition was released, William Zinsser’s nonfiction guide is still unparalleled among essayists, memoirists, journalists, bloggers, and other nonfiction writers. It’s a fantastic read because it gets right to the point, offering sound grammar and style advice with utmost clarity. If you write nonfiction, this book contains the fundamentals that you need to know in order to reach your target audience and sound as natural as possible.
07. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, foreword by Roger Angell
Professional writers have depended on Strunk & White for a long time. This style guide revolutionized the industry, becoming a go-to resource for everyone from screenwriters to poets. Strunk was an English professor at Cornell University in the early 20th century, and his composition guide was the very first version of this manual. It still includes lists of commonly misused and misspelled words, as well as accurate summaries of fundamental writing rules. Most importantly, simplicity still drives every lesson. This book will help you eliminate unnecessary words, clean up your grammar, and make your unique voice as loud and clear as possible.
08. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, by Mignon Fogarty
Fogarty’s wildly popular grammar blog paved the way for this helpful text, which gathers Grammar Girl’s most valuable lessons into one convenient, comprehensive volume. This book is all about answering common questions and clearing up common misconceptions. If you can’t decide whether to use “that” or “which”, this book has the answer. And if you have trouble remembering complex rules while writing your manuscript, this resource will transform the way you write and think about the English language.
09. Grammar Girl podcast and website
This website was once a small blog that gave Mignon Fogarty a place to explore her love of language and clear up common misconceptions. Today, it’s an online phenomenon and her Grammar Girl alias is a household name. These succinct pages are often the first result when you enter a grammar question into a search engine, and because she sources and explains her information so well, you don’t have to worry about the problems that come with such a subjective resource. Her “Quick and Dirty Tips” podcast brings these rules to life, injecting humor and levity into the revision process.
Professional and commercial writing is very different from creative work. You can’t depend on traditional writing rules for your business manuscript; creative language and narrative styles usually aren’t appropriate in a professional setting. If your manuscript has a commercial purpose, you can learn a lot from the sample documents and real-world rules that fill this excellent resource. Straightforward communication is essential in the business world, so whether you’re trying to motivate potential customers or seal deals with industry peers, you should use this handbook to make sure your message is obvious, compelling, and easily digestible.
11 The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing: How to Find, Hire, and Work with the Right Editor for Your Manuscript, by Sarah Kolb-Williams
Of course, self-editing and revising is almost never the final step for a writer. Even when you’re self-publishing, hiring an editor is a very wise investment in the success of your manuscript. This resource is geared toward the self-publishing community, and it offers invaluable tips and rules for securing an editor, soliciting feedback from a “beta” audience, and even deciding whether an editor is necessary (hint: it most likely is).
You’re a writer, not a copyeditor, so don’t attempt to refine your final draft without tapping into some essential copyediting resources. This handbook is the best of the best, offering guided lessons and exercises that explain all the intricacies of business editing. You’ll probably learn more than you expected about the industry standards and communication fundamentals that go into successful technical writing. Even if you think your work is solid and you don’t need to brush up on your editing skills, give this book a chance to transform the way you approach revisions.
13 Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers, by David Madden
In fiction, sometimes the revision process is just as important as writing the first draft. You need to be able to re-read your work from a fresh perspective, and this book will allow you to do exactly that. Rather than sticking to stylistic advice and grammar guidelines, Madden explores fiction revision from a variety of creative angles that will expand and refresh your outlook. For example, switching a third-person narrator to first-person offers an opportunity for in-depth characterization that brings your work to life. Even if you switch back, approaching your work from a new angle will always pay off.
14 Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction), by James Scott Bell
If you’re a fiction writer, self-editing is mandatory. After immersing yourself in a world of your own creation, you need to be able to step back and look at your words through the eyes of an editor. James Scott Bell is a novelist himself, so he understands the importance of the revision process and shares a few clever techniques that he’s developed through the years. He’s also a professor, making this instructional manual as informative and educational as a university lecture. If your manuscript gets rejected or you hit a creative wall, use this book to strengthen your final draft.
15. Eve Proofreads
Fiction and nonfiction writers can both depend on Eve’s expertise as a professional editor and proofreader. She updates this blog regularly with new brainstorming exercises, grammar clarifications, and insights into the editing process. She’ll even help you improve the quality of future manuscripts, teaching you about everything from creating believable dialogue in a short story to avoiding clunky run-on sentences in a descriptive essay.
Grammar and style resources: investments that pay off
Editing and revising doesn’t have to detract from your creativity or originality. On the contrary, you actually open up new storytelling possibilities when you re-think your structure, tone, tenses, and narrative style. And as you strengthen your vocabulary and your grasp on complex grammar, you’ll have more time and energy to spend on your favorite part of the process: the writing itself. No matter which genre you work in – or how many years of experience you have – it’s always a good idea to fine-tune your editorial skills and learn new ways to revise.
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Brittney Benton works for a major media research corporation, editing survey questions and answers for their polling website. She has studied poetry extensively, and several of her poems have been published in literary magazines. She reads submissions for Sweet: A Literary Confection.